Dark night of Charlevoix

My iPhone had a mishap, so I am recalling events from a future perspective, having lost several posts in process. Having left Barnes Park around 10:30 am with it’s sparkling toilets, I made the dash for the end of Grand Traverse Bay and then with a little luck – Beaver Island. I got an encouraging start, then stalled out coming up to Fisherman’s Island Park. The wind was so lame I started for shore, then got encouraged by robot reports of decent south wind of 6 knots or so off Traverse light. I persisted and sure enough got a good few miles under me, getting within site of the cement plant in Charlevoix. It was big and slow to pass by, in hindsight a dark omen. With the wind blowing and my new night lights installed, I thought I could make Beaver even if I sailed into the evening hours. The forecasts were for a wind shift but then steady strong breezes that I could ride north – west or east, I can’t remember.

I started toward Beaver, putting the cement plant on my stern. It dwindled over the next few hours and off in the distance I could make out the weird shimmering phantasms that islands manifest when viewed from 15 miles away. I could see Beaver and so could use both the compass and a visual fix to navigate. Airplanes from Charlevoix flew back and forth on the Beaver run every hour or so, helping to point the way. Then 5 miles or so from Charlevoix, the wind shift began to feel more and more like wind dying. At about 7:30 pm I made the call, turn back, turn back! Becalmed in shipping lanes, with a frost advisory – not a good situation. I spun around and watched the sun drop for another hour as I fitfully creeped back toward that awful cement plant.

A rip roaring sunset with pink beams streaking across the dome of the sky. Hello World going slower, slower… stopped. It’s dusk and I’m paddling for some friendly looking dunes to the west of town about 2-3 miles away. After some confusion, my iPhone charts tell the story, the cement plant is the closest landfall. Now the ominous factor increases – didn’t Jeff mention that there was a nuclear plant up around these parts? Is that actually a nuclear power plant, are those domes containment vessels? Wouldn’t a nuclear power plant look more slick? What is homeland security going to think about a radical with an FBI record paddling a backpack ladened sailboat up to a nuclear power plant in the dead of night?

A boat approaches, cautiously. They come around in a long slow parabola, obviously casing me. Probably doing a night vision scan for weapons of mass destruction, expecting twin hulls filled with thermite or rocket launchers disguised as tripods. Whoever they are I feel unreasonably embarrassed to be naked, windless. A rakish sailboat shorn of all grace and speed, having no good reason to be out fumbling around in the deepening twilight. No I don’t want a tow, probably.

Off my stern, still a good 100 feet away, the pilot leans away from the wheel and asks,

“All good?”

Relieved and slightly sheepish I reply,

“Yeah, just waiting for some wind.”

No more questions or offers of help, he just motors off, as politely as he approached. He didn’t offer a tow. Stubborn and totally screwed to the last, that’s me.

Around 9:30 pm, a wind arrives, bringing me in, drawing me towards – the ominous complex. My destiny is to sleep next to this mighty grumbling monster, whatever it is. I drive in towards the lights of town tacking experimentally to see if I can somehow make those dunes. Nope, there’s no escape. On the last tack, I’m driving in to heaven knows what, a couple hundred yards or so from concrete towers and domes. Suddenly bumping on shallow rocks, I dive for the rudder release, the boat slews around while I’m busy and then there are huge rocks, dead ahead. I spin the boat around and away from collision more by force of will than anything, and we run gently aground. It’s not a beach, just big rocks guarding a marsh. A condo or commercial building with a few lit windows broods over the scene. The only option is to anchor and get into my sleeping bags and quick, it’s damn cold. I’ll never get the wetsuit off in time to pee, so I just let go right there. Baptism. I vow to at rinse it and me before getting into dry cloths. I jump off and drag the boat into deeper waters for anchor. The water feels toasty, a bad sign. The temperature of my extremities must be below the water temperature, 65F or so? Gotta move quick and get warm. Wish I had read Gretchen’s post about this very topic instead of just scanning it. What follows is a series of tedious but essential boat shut down proceedures, executed mostly in the dark and talking to myself encouragingly the whole time.

Finally – sails down and stowed and me on up the trampoline rinsed, dressed and ready to shut down. I get in the sleeping bags slightly damp from yesterdays dew and strip off my socks and bottoms. I have the over confident notion that I’ll keep them in the bag and dry them with my body heat, but nix that after my stone frozen feet make it clear that I’ve got to focus all my body heat on me. I close the bags’ drawskins until there’s only a snorkle opening for oxygen. It’s 11:00 pm. I drift off to the hum of american industry.

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One Response to Dark night of Charlevoix

  1. heikilee says:

    Are you okay?

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